The president’s stop later in the day in this liberal college community was aimed at galvanizing two pillars of his political coalition, African-Americans and young voters, who Democrats say are not turning out to vote in the same numbers as they once did for Mr. Obama. If Donald J. Trump loses here and in Florida, where Mr. Obama was heading on Thursday, he has virtually no path to the White House.
“You, North Carolina, are going to have to make sure that we push it in the right direction,” Mr. Obama exhorted about 16,000 cheering supporters at the University of North Carolina. It was Mr. Obama’s second stop on a weeklong swing through four pivotal states and demonstrated a new level of urgency among Democrats about the race as well as the personal stakes for Mr. Obama, who wants Mrs. Clinton to carry on his agenda.
After saying for a second time that “the fate of the republic” rested on their shoulders, Mr. Obama made sure to add he was not joking. His language, here and in the interview, reflected how determined he was to defeat Mr. Trump and betrayed how nervous some in his own party have become over Mrs. Clinton’s prospects.
The president also lashed out at Republicans for vowing to create gridlock in Washington if Mrs. Clinton is elected, saying that “you’ve got some Republicans in Congress who are already suggesting they will impeach Hillary. She hasn’t even been elected yet.”
In Washington, Mr. Obama’s criticism of Mr. Comey was only the latest blow to the F.B.I., where the mood is grim as agents continue to review emails belonging to Huma Abedin, a top aide to Mrs. Clinton. The emails were discovered in an unrelated investigation into her estranged husband, Anthony D. Weiner, a former congressman from New York. The F.B.I. is investigating whether Mr. Weiner sent illicit text messages to a teenage girl in North Carolina and seized his laptop in early October.
The F.B.I. concluded the case into Mrs. Clinton’s private server in July with no charges, but Mr. Comey’s letter to Congress has renewed an inquiry that Mrs. Clinton thought was behind her.
For Mr. Comey, the short time left before the election now offers no easy options. If, over the next few days, agents find no evidence to change their July conclusion in the emails of Ms. Abedin that they are able to review — law enforcement officials say the F.B.I. likely will not be able to complete the inquiry by Tuesday — publicly saying so would open the F.B.I to criticism that it was prejudging an open investigation.
If agents do find potentially damaging evidence, publicly saying so would taint Ms. Abedin — and by extension Mrs. Clinton — before the investigation is complete. Either move would amount to a change in practice for the F.B.I., which typically says only what it believes it can prove, and only in court.
“The risk of harm is greater if he comes out without all the facts,” Chris Voss, a former F.B.I. agent, said of Mr. Comey.
Saying nothing, however, allows suspicion to hang over Mrs. Clinton’s campaign in the final days of the race. Mr. Trump has already capitalized on the F.B.I. review at his rallies, calling it evidence of what he calls Mrs. Clinton’s corrupt and criminal behavior.
Mr. Comey’s letter has also put Mr. Obama into a delicate position at a crucial time in the race, essentially forcing him to choose between his own institutional imperative to refrain from meddling in a federal law enforcement matter and his political impulse to fiercely defend Mrs. Clinton.
White House officials later played down Mr. Obama’s remarks about the F.B.I. and insisted he had not meant to criticize Mr. Comey.
“The president went out of his way to say he wouldn’t comment on any particular investigations,” Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman, told reporters on Air Force One while Mr. Obama was en route to North Carolina.
Mr. Schultz characterized Mr. Obama’s remarks as mirroring those made in recent days by the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, who had said that while the White House would not criticize Mr. Comey’s decision to update Congress on the status of a continuing investigation, Mr. Obama believed that rules intended to keep such investigations confidential were good ones and should be followed.
Much is unknown about the newly discovered emails, including why they were on Mr. Weiner’s laptop in the first place. Ms. Abedin, through her lawyers, has adamantly denied using that laptop. One theory of how the emails ended up there, according to several of the people, is that they may have been inadvertently backed up or downloaded onto an older computer and then transferred from the older computer to the laptop’s hard drive when the older computer was replaced.
Mr. Obama, affecting a bit of the local accent, repeatedly said he had come to do “bidness,” name-dropped the Tar Heels basketball team, and could barely contain his laughter as he described some of Mr. Trump’s more provocative remarks.
But he also directed the millennials in the audience to pay attention as he described the ugly history of the struggle for black voting rights and North Carolina’s more recent effort to make it harder to cast a ballot. Alluding to a 100-year-old black woman and lifelong resident of the state whose voting eligibility was recently questioned, Mr. Obama said North Carolinians would be complicit in what he called “voter suppression” if they did not show up at the polls.
“If you don’t vote you’ve done the work of those who would suppress your vote without them having to lift a finger,” the president warned. He referred to Mr. Trump’s repeated allegations of voting fraud in “certain areas,” making it clear that he thinks the Republican was talking about black communities. “Where are those ‘certain areas’ he’s talking about?” Mr. Obama asked with a knowing tone.
Hoping to energize progressives in a town so liberal the late firebrand Senator Jesse Helms said the state could put up a wall around it and deem it a zoo, Mr. Obama left little doubt about how important North Carolina was to Mrs. Clinton. “If Hillary wins North Carolina,” he said, “she wins.”
In North Carolina, which Mr. Obama narrowly lost in 2012, early voting rates among African-Americans and young voters have so far been below the level of four years ago. Democrats have seen improvements in these numbers in recent days as more early voting locations have opened up and they were able to drive out African-American voters at “souls to the polls” events last weekend.
On Thursday, Mr. Obama is to campaign in Miami and Jacksonville, two of Florida’s most heavily African-American cities. He is scheduled to return to North Carolina on Friday, when he will appear in Charlotte and Fayetteville, both with sizable black populations, before going back to Orlando on Saturday for the final day of early voting in Florida.
An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect corporate parent for NowThis News. It is not owned by CNN; it is independently operated.
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